Barcode technologies to support ethical sourcing

By By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Palm oil Fair trade Supply chain management

New technologies such as 2D barcoding can support the market for Fairtrade products such as sustainable palm oil by ensuring ingredients are ethically sourced, according to supply chain solutions provider Zetes.

As Fairtrade fortnight ended on March 7 last month, Zetes said companies such as Sainsbury and Unilever had prioritised ethical sourcing of ingredients such as sustainably sourced palm oil. Sainsbury had taken 10 years to trace palm oil origins through individual supply chains to the farmer, said Zetes.

"Manufacturers at the coalface understand the complexities of this issue only too well," said Zetes sales director Andrew Southgate. "They have to source raw ingredients like palm oil in bulk from intermediaries who blend in-coming shipments from producers before supplying it on to customers without a trace left of the source."

The practice made it difficult to identify the palm oil's origin, he said. "Is it from a legal and sustainably managed platform or was it grown in a protected forest?"

Technology existed to make this easier to achieve, for instance, by integrating data capture technologies including voice, image capture, barcodes, radio frequency identification and smart cards, said Southgate. "But, looking ahead, barcodes are now moving to data matrices capable of holding far more detailed information, such as the 2D barcodes which are already widely used in pharmacy applications," he added. "It is simply a matter of time before 2D barcodes become widespread within the food sector."

In a recent Zetes customer survey, 89% said the solutions they had implemented significantly improved traceability, accuracy and productivity. Improvements in traceability had also helped to improve processors' inventory management, cut wastage from poor shelf-life management, reduced shrinkage and controlled out of stock situations.

"The key question for customers considering how to address traceability is deciding what to track: the individual goods or the packaging," said Southgate. "And agreement is required among supply chain partners over the sharing and storage of information to allow it to be captured and tracked at appropriate level."

Typically, processors tracked pallets of goods and therefore encountered problems when goods were broken down into smaller units than pallets, he said.

Related topics Supply Chain